Most of us are running hard, performing miraculous juggling acts. Every second of every day, we all try to squeeze out more, to get everything done, and try to have a little down time, too.
But I didn’t really stop to think about what I’m doing to myself — my health really — until I sat down with Suzanne Steinbaum, a doctor specializing in cardiovascular disease and Jennifer Perez of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women program, who wanted to remind women about heart health and self-care.
Did you know that the No. 1 killer of women (and men) is heart disease? That one in four deaths are caused by heart disease?
Did you know that heart disease is often caused by stress? By poor eating? By simply not taking care of ourselves?
Did you ever stop to think that heart disease could disrupt your family and impact you and your loved ones?
It’s not something we want to think about. But as we move from February (Heart Month), and into March (Women’s History Month), it is a good time to focus on what women still need to do to have healthy, prosperous careers — especially as more and more women are serving as the primary breadwinners in the family.
Today, the role of senior executive ranks as one of the most stressful jobs, and three of every four American workers report stress on the job.
Stress can be good — sometimes pressure can stimulate creativity and even improve performance — but the combination of technology, more hours, more pressure, and less sleep have a physical toll, according to a report by Fairleigh Dickinson University, and can lead to sheer unhappiness and even violence and aggression in the workplace.
Caring for Our Bodies and Wallets
There’s also a financial toll for failing to care for our health. There’s all the talk about whatever new fad diet is in vogue: Paleo, Alkaline, the Blood Type Diet, juice cleanses, avoiding “the whites” — the list goes on. We know that when we take care of ourselves, we’re more productive. But prevention is a powerful money-saving tool as well.
According to a Rand study, people who care for their bodies and keep them at a normal weight spend 36% less on health services than those who don’t — everything from co-pays to prescription drugs.
Of course, eating mindfully, taking time out, and regular exercise also impacts our pocketbooks in other ways — from less sick time off the job to lower insurance premiums.
And, the less stressed we are, the less likely we’ll revert to bad foods and bad habits, which can lead to feeling badly about ourselves.
Call for Health Action
What can we do to take better care of ourselves and each other?
- Live right – What really is living right and why does it matter to your career? From proper eating to regular exercise, you’ll reduce your stress, trips to the doctor, and costly outlays to operate more effectively on the job and off.
- More sleep – Fifty-one percent of women say they have been unable to sleep due to stress in the last month, according to the American Psychological Association. Yet a lack of sleep can impact our cognitive performance, such as our attention and working memory, research shows. As women juggle work with home, all the more reason to try to get what your body needs, which generally ranges from 7-8 hours a night.
- Partner support – Family conflicts and issues may impact a woman’s chances of caring for herself. One study that 33% of women struggled with family conflict vs. just 20% of men. Partners can support each other through stressful times, making sure they get timely check-ups and hit the gym or pillow earlier.
- Pace yourself – It’s easy to feel the pressure of work and home, but scheduling time for even little things and setting realistic time frames — perhaps even altering your schedule — can reduce the buildup of stress.
As just one small personal example, I recently had to re-examine my early mornings. I’ve always forced myself to exercise first thing in the morning. But I have a 90 minute commute each way and hitting the gym every morning and getting home very late at night was taking a toll. So I took my husband’s advice and restructured my mornings: shifting workouts to three days a week (and one on the weekend). By realizing that something had to give, I’m already feeling better and less worn down. I’m operating better. And the extra sleep helps, too.
The bottom line: Good health means you’re better equipped physically and emotionally for the next career move. Not only will you feel better, but so will your bank account.
So here’s to your health, and to honoring Women’s History Month by focusing on your own well-being, and that of the important women in your life.
This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com and is reprinted by permission from Marketwatch.com, ©2014 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.